Another NFL draft, another Iowa offensive lineman built to do some major dirty work in the trenches.
This time it’s Tyler Linderbaum, the undisputed top center in the crop. He’s the latest in this great tradition of Hawkeye linemen, with a roll call that includes Tristin Wirfs, Brandon Scherff and Marshal Yanda, among others. If Penn State is Linebacker U., then Iowa is the factory of choice for O-line grunts.
Credit the grooming directed by longtime head coach Kirk Ferentz, who in his NFL assistant coaching life was an offensive line coach.
“Coach Ferentz, that’s kind of his position. Offensive linemen,” Linderbaum said. “That’s what he likes to do. So, a lot of his time goes into that position, and it’s also how Iowa operates. We have to have a good O-line for our team to be successful. A lot of that weight is on the offensive line.”
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Linderbaum, projected by some experts to go off the board on Thursday night in the the first round, surely has credentials that suggest he might be the safest pick in the draft. A converted defensive lineman, he won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. He was a first-team All-America and a finalist for the Outland Trophy. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated Linderbaum as the nation’s top center over the past two seasons, with his 2021 grade the highest of anyone at the position in the decade that PFF has produced its ratings. His character mark is bolstered by what he did with the $30,000 he earned from name, image and likeness earnings. All of his profits from marketing “Baum Squad” T-shirts went to the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital.
On top of that, he draws many raves about his techniques, quickness and competitive fire. Eric DeCosta, the Baltimore Ravens general manager who saw Yanda enter the NFL in 2007 as a third-round pick and leave after the 2019 season with people considering him a future Hall of Famer, is hardly shy about comparing Linderbaum to Yanda.
“We see a lot of the same qualities – tough, gritty, very, very athletic, very intelligent, smart, the type of guy who could really be the centerpiece of your offensive line,” DeCosta said during the NFL scouting combine in early March. “Teams picking in the top 15, I think, have a chance to get themselves a really good offensive lineman.”
Still, there’s always something. It wouldn’t be the NFL draft without some nitpicking and doubts.
Give the floor to Mel Kiper Jr., the longtime ESPN draft analyst.
“He has short arms,” Kiper said last week. “That’s the only thing, or else he’s in the middle of the first, say, to Baltimore at 14. He’s not that big.”
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At the combine, the 6-2 Linderbaum weighed in at 296 pounds. By his pro day showcase on April 11, he weighed 302 pounds. His arms haven’t grown, though, measuring 31 7/8 inches.
“He doesn’t have the arm length that teams would necessarily prefer, but he’s a great player,” Kiper added.
Then again, Yanda had short arms, too. And he only made the Pro Bowl eight times.
“People are always going to find negative things about you now,” Linderbaum said. “It is what it is. I’m confident in my game. I’m confident in my abilities. There’s certainly some things that I think I can get better at from a technique standpoint, and that’s from the run game to the pass game. There’s always stuff that we can find that’s negative.”
With an impressive pro day workout, Linderbaum might have solidified the opinion that, despite his arm length, he’s the best center prospect in the draft in a decade. He didn’t perform at the combine, but comparing his workout numbers to the marks put up by others in Indianapolismade a strong case. He 20-yard shuttle (4.38 seconds) and three-cone drill (7.14) were better than any offensive line time at the combine; his vertical jump (32 1/2 inches) ranked third-best against the combine marks.
Furthermore, Linderbaum proved that he was likely fully recovered from the mid-foot sprain that slowed his progress during training sessions early this year. It was also a plus that his footwork marks came after he topped 300 pounds again.
How it all transfers to the NFL is part of the challenge. His added weight includes carrying the Iowa legacy. But don’t think that’s undue pressure. He sounds like the type to embrace the expectations, and he will tell you that he believes he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. He also promises to haul along the mind-set that every team needs in front of the quarterback.
“I think the center is a tempo-setter,” he said. “They’re the guy that kind of sets the tempo for the offensive line. That’s something I tried to do right away, make a Day 1 impact when I first moved into that position. And that’s something I’ll try to do whenever I get to my team. So, I think it’s important that you’re the guy that holds guys accountable and works their butt off.”
And who knows? Maybe Linderbaum will be the measuring stick in assessing the next stud offensive lineman to come out of Iowa.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft: Tyler Linderbaum looks to shoulder Iowa’s draft tradition